October 2008 | Home
Stand outside the Fishbowl and Mason Hall, and you're right where U-M began. Take a trip through time in this slideshow.
As a young man, Red Berenson kept preparing for life after hockey. Now 68, he's still among the best in the business.
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Campaigns and slogans
October 14, 2008
Political words with semantic heft have the power to endure. In the 1950s, the campaigns to elect Dwight Eisenhower used the powerful phrase: "I like Ike." Eisenhower, the commanding general of World War II, was already known to the world as Ike and the slogan did something clever: it embraced the candidate within the word like. The associations were powerful, memorable, and fit on a button.
Now, it seems, we live in Dictionopolis, the city made famous for words in "The Phantom Tollbooth," where King Azaz the Unabridged rules over language. We can't get enough of wordplay, and Norton Juster, author of the "Tollbooth," knew that kids start that play early, and they never get over the fun of words. Juster just threw out the old ideas of "graded vocabulary" (his characters include a "not-so-wicked Which" and Dr. Kakafonous A. Dischord) that claimed children would become confused by words larger than see or run that chimed through the Dick and Jane series with which American children learned basal reading from the 1930s to the 1960s. "The Phantom Tollbooth" put an end to all that.
Now the censorship of editors (and press agents) has been weakened by the Internet and various forms of self-publishing. Anyone has always been able to invent words, but now anyone can make them known everywhere.
Some of them echo. A book attacking the Democratic nominee is called "Obama Nation," and it evokes Woodstock Nation (a nightmare for many of its older readers) and the word abomination. A button attacking the Republican nominee bears the words Citizen McCain—an allusion to the megalomaniacal figure of Orson Welles's 1941 Academy Award-winning film.
The vice-presidential candidates get the same scornful linguistic treatment, and they got it within hours of their names becoming known: No Abidin' Biden and Sarah Failin'
A button on the pattern of I like Ike is Obama Mama. Women for McCain is not quite so linguistically playful.
There's even a whole dictionary devoted to words made up for the election: "Obamamania!: The English Language Barackafied." It comes from the same publisher as "Obama Nation," which has offered nearly a dozen titles for and against the candidate, as well as a cookbook for which Senator Obama wrote the preface.
"Obamamania," the dictionary, has hardly a word with any currency whatsoever. Clever as it may be, these Obamaisms have no future.
But there are electing words out there that do have currency, and most of them are blends along the line of Reaganomics: Reagan + economics. These are used more or less even-handedly with the candidates: McCainicrat and Obamacan; McCainophile and Obamaphile; McCainarama and Obamarama; Palin-mania and Biden-mania. As words, they are not likely to last long either, but they have a whisper of a chance.
If there's a twenty-first century successor to I like Ike, I haven't heard it.
Richard W. Bailey is Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. His latest publication (co-edited with Colette Moore and Marilyn Miller) is an edition of a chronicle of daily life in London written by a merchant in the middle of the sixteenth century. This electronic book incorporates images of the manuscript, a transcript of the writing it contains, and a modernization of the text for easy reading. Thanks to the University of Michigan Library and the University Press, the work is freely available to all: http://www.hti.umich.edu/m/machyn